The Psychology Behind Political Debate

How politicians use psychology, and what it means for democracy.

Five books to read before the end of summer

Books on politics and behavioral sciences for late summer reading!

Summer is winding down, but with the long Labor Day holiday weekend ahead, I thought that I will put together a list of some of the best books that I've read recently, as suggestions for late-summer reading.  These books area all non-fiction, and span politics and the behavioral sciences.  

I don't discuss them in any particular order, they are all worth a read.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.  This is a fascinating read, and anyone who works with human subjects in their research ought to pick this one up. The story of Henrietta Lacks provides important lessons for why we have rigorous "institutional review board" scrutiny for our research with human subjects.  

Connected:  The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.  The study of social networks is relatively new, but as Christakis and Fowler demonstrate in this wonderful book, network analysis sheds considerable light on important questions that span social and behavioral science.  

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The Vision Revolution:  How The Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision, by Mark Changizi.  This book is different; Changizi constructs his presentation of the latest research in the vision sciences around clever questions, like how optical illusions work.  In each of the vision science "puzzles", he clearly but thoroughly discusses cutting-edge scientific insights in approachable ways. 

Game Change:  Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.  This is the first of two excellent books on the 2008 presidential election.  While early media reports focused on some eye-popping revelations in Heilemann and Halperin's book, the really interesting parts of it focus on the day-to-day discussion of both campaigns --- giving an insider's view into the personalities of the 2008 campaign.  

The Battle for America 2008:  The Story of an Extraordinary Election, by Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz.  This is a thorough and systematic study of the 2008 presidential election, from start to finish.  Johnson and Balz give a great foundation from which we can understand the dynamics of this election, and this books helps the reader understand the Obama administration's success --- and failures.

I welcome the suggestions of readers for other books that should be in the end-of-summer reading pile!

R. Michael Alvarez, Ph.D., is a Professor of Political Science at the California Institute of Technology.

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